A Melbourne-based company has won a federal government grant to set up a first of its kind solar panel upcycling plant, to transform potentially hazardous solar panel waste into value-added materials.
The initiative is led by industrial manufacturing company Ojas Group – the grant recipient – in partnership with RMIT and the University of Melbourne.
The aim of the new entity, called Elecsome, is to build a national network of collection points and facilities to provide cost-effective and environmentally sustainable PV solar panel upcycling services in Australia.
The $3 million grant awarded to Ojas Group via the federal government’s latest round of Cooperative Research Centres Projects (CRC-Ps) will help to get that plan underway.
“The Morrison government is committed to supporting innovative ideas and assisting researchers and industry develop real-world solutions to issues facing Australia and the world,” said federal minister for industry, science and technology, Karen Andrews, in a statement on Wednesday.
“Now more than ever it is vital businesses and researchers work together to collaborate on outcomes which will generate opportunities and jobs as the nation continues its economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.”
According to the Elecsome website, the technology behind the up-cycling venture is backed by “years of research” at both RMIT and the University of Melbourne.
The technology claims to be able to up-cycle 97 per cent of each PV panel, with the glass used as concrete fill, replacing sand, and as other construction material including road base material.
Aluminium frames are repurposed for cans and other solar panel frames, among other things, and the electrical conductors are re-used in electrical goods. Elecsome says EVA polymer silicon will be recycled, repurposed and distributed to other industries as raw material.
The plan is to set up the factories in regional areas, to create employment opportunities, and for each factory to have a capacity of 50 tonnes of solar panel throughput.
How to sustainably manage PV panels at the end of their working lives has become an increasingly pressing issue for the industry, as rooftop solar uptake continues to boom among Australian households and businesses.
At this stage, Australia has just one dedicated solar panel recycler – Adelaide-based Reclaim PV – with more and more promising leads emerging from research coming out of various universities and spurred by backing from ARENA.
In New South Wales, a $10 million government grant scheme was launched in August to tackle the problem, with the aim of generating trial projects to increase the collection, reuse and recycling of solar panel and battery storage systems.